Discerning the Signs of the Times ( Part 1)

This edition of the Friday blog will centre on the preface, the introduction and the first two chapters of this book.  In the preface, Fr. Michel Evdokimov introduces Dr. Elisabeth Behr-Sigel.  My mother, of blessed memory, was fond of reminding my sisters and me that you can always tell a person by their acquaintances and friends.  Reading the names of Mme. Elisabeth’s Orthodox friends in the Russian-French community is like reading a who’s who in twentieth century Orthodox theological circles.  The names Bulgakov, Lossky, Evdokimov and Gillet jump off the page, only to stress the rare times in Paris during the life of Elisabeth.

discerning2 Continuing this introduction to Mme. Behr-Sigel in chapter one she relates her journey to embrace the faith.  I was struck how very similar her story was to so many of our fellow Orthodox in this country.  Marriage to a member of the Church combined with study and the influence of church members all contributed to bring Dr. Behr-Sigel to Orthodoxy.  As a noted member of the academy in France, Mme. Behr-Sigel brought a wealth experiences to the Church family.  Additionally, she lived during the critical times of the two world wars and the turmoil within the Christian communities of Europe and the world as the result of the wars.  The two great issues which incited fervor in Dr. Behr-Sigel were questions that, in my opinion, remain to be fully explored and more completely resolved.  These concerns are the subject of the full participation of the royal priesthood, most especially women, in the Church and the question of how the Church responds to the challenges of modernity and its impact on the Church.  These two great trials continue to confront us as the Church.  It will be a voyage of discovery as we read this book.

I read with great personal interest the second chapter of the book.  These pages contain a reprint of an address Behr-Sigel gave at the Orthodox Theological Institute at Cambridge in 1998. The topic of Dr. Elizabeth’s lecture discussed the task of Orthodox Theological Formation.  This talk was an opportunity to once again return to the two themes which animated Behr-Sigel, the role of women in the Church and modernity and the Church.  If one reads the speech closely the call for Orthodox theological formation at a center of western learning was essential to equip future Church leaders to address issues facing us in this age.  The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge (http://www.iocs.cam.ac.uk/) has provided a fertile environment for teaching theology to the lay, academic, and pan-Orthodox peoples of Great Britain for over ten years.  Ria and I have been privileged to benefit from many of the Institutes programs during our years in Britain.  The vision of Dr. Behr-Sigel, expressed in her address, that the centre at Cambridge becomes a source of teaching Orthodox Tradition has been realized.         Dn. George